Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"If you're happy and you know it...

Clap your hands." Or stamp your feet. And, read Joan Chittister’s book called Happiness, now in paperback and published by Eerdmans. Click on www.eerdmans.com for more information. A Benedictine sister and  author of more than 40 books, Chittister’s plan here is to "dig," as archeologists dug, down through the ages. She thinks of it as "a great happiness dig" and she hopes readers will follow, as she discovers how happiness has been defined in earlier times. She calls Happiness "a work in progress" and she hopes that readers, after having read her ideas, will each "form a kind of philosophy of happiness" for themselves.
 
Chittister writes that "life is about developing the skills for living...about discovering what it really takes to be happy. And that takes a long, long time." She quotes from a world values survey and some social surveys as well as from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Gandhi, Immanuel Kant, and many others. She reports that happiness is a universal concept, one for "serious reflection." We know if we are happy or not, or we think we do, she says. And happiness, or the lack of it, often forms our day-to-day choices.
 
Her section on religion is especially interesting as she gives a brief but helpful overview of what those in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe about happiness and how their beliefs affect their lives in practical ways. Putting together their similarities feels like looking at a huge inter-faith stew getting ready for the taste test. All the herbs and spices are carefully mixed and added for the best possible taste and soon we may be allowed to try a tiny sip. The chef will be eager to hear our reactions.
 
But I was disappointed in the ways Chittister defined Christianity. Our God is a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We often think of him as Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. And Jesus is much more than a model of good behavior for those seeking happiness. So some of my early enthusiasm fell away near the end of this otherwise fascinating book. No doubt, Happiness was planned as a "popular" book, and it is. Chittister’s fans will appreciate it and will turn to it more than once.
 
—Lois Sibley